I’ve know many actors who’ve stayed in the game too long. They’re simply not good actors, and they’ve thrown away their lives in pursuit of a dream that is difficult even for the most talented and hardworking of their peers.
Late one evening I was pondering this phenomenon. I wondered how they had managed to persevere in the face of such obvious adversity. How could they have ignored the clear signs of their lack of craft? How could they not know that they kind of suck?
Then it dawned on me that all actors live in an echo-chamber. In the same way your Facebook algorithm is giving you more of what you want, the people around you are always telling you want you want to hear. Most actors are surrounded by supportive friends and family who do nothing but encourage you. A truthful, perhaps harsh voice, is almost never present.
I know actors who gloat about their ability to praise a show they’ve hated. They are able to look their friends in the eyes and tell them without a shred of guilt that they “adored the show”, or perhaps more diplomatically: “the show wasn’t the best, but you were great!”.
As I was thinking about this I realised that people have always liked my shows. Or they have at least liked my performance in the show. I stopped, took a convincing gulp of wine, and realised it was very possible I too was a terrible actor.
I began to fall into a daydream…
I’m at my opening night, the show has ended in riotous applause, I put on my favourite shirt backstage, get handed a Sav blanc and begin to circulate the foyer. Happy smiles are all around. Always “great show”, always “you were wonderful”. I look them in the eyes and search for the possibility of lies, but their smiles are impenetrable.
And then I wake up… I will never know the truth.
How can anyone tell if they are good at acting?
Acting teachers want us to keep taking their classes, so they butter us up with compliments, friends are all too encouraging, the internet keeps sprouting motivational quotes (we’re guilty of that) and celebrities keep telling us to work hard and stay in the game. Even if you get a few scathing reviews these can be written off as exceptions; “but everyone I spoke to loved the show.”
As I reeled from this acting crisis, empty glass before me, I realised I had two options: fall into crippling self doubt, or simply don’t give a damn. I said at the start of this article that I know some actors I think are terrible, we all do. But guess what? Someone else loves them. Someone else thinks they are interesting, and captivating and talented. Some of them have better careers than me, some of them develop, some of them find their strengths after a few years adrift, some of them just need the right teacher or mentor. And to make matters worse, the best actors I know all think they suck. At the end of the day the only person you can trust is yourself.